Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hostile Steyn removes Indian openers

Take a green, pacy pitch, add overcast conditions, and unleash perhaps the world's best new-ball attack on it. That's what awaited India's batsmen at Kingsmead, and they responded reasonably well to the challenge in an absorbing first session - Dale Steyn removed both openers in a wonderful spell of fast bowling, but there was no repeat of the limp first-day batting performance in Centurion. India came out looking to bat aggressively and will be satisfied with the 74 for 2 they posted by lunch. Steyn didn't get the support he required, which meant South Africa didn't capitalise on what was a great toss to win.
The perils in store for the batsmen were evident right from the first delivery of the match, which reared from a length and struck Virender Sehwag painfully on the fingers. The ball was jagging around prodigiously and the openers had a tough time: Sehwag was beaten by a peach off the final ball of the first over from Steyn. In the next over from Morne Morkel, a ball swerved in sharply to cut Sehwag in half. Other batsmen may be unnerved by that; Sehwag just smiled and went for his shots without worrying about the movement.
The approach paid off for a while, bringing the usual array of early Sehwag boundaries. In the fourth over, Morkel was punched down the ground, before being lofted over cover. Lonwabo Tsotsobe was greeted with a delightful backfoot drive past point for four more, before an incoming delivery was cut unconvincingly past the slip cordon. Morkel was guilty of bowling too short, Tsotsobe couldn't block the runs as well and India survived the first ten overs.
Steyn was accurate and kept testing the bowlers outside off, working his outswinger beautifully. It was one of those that accounted for Sehwag - pitched up and asking to be driven, only for the late movement to get the outside edge to slip. In his next over, Steyn sent back the other opener, M Vijay - in for the injured Gautam Gambhir - who had looked less in control than Sehwag. A peach of a delivery had Vijay fishing outside off, and nicking to the keeper. Vijay had started the innings leaving most deliveries outside off, but had a chancy stay - dropped by Paul Harris at first slip when on 3, and later by AB de Villiers, who nearly plucked a blinder at third slip.
Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid then shepherded India to lunch. Tendulkar played a couple of adventurous uppercuts for four, but also had a top-edge over the keeper for four. Dravid was more patient, though he punished the bowlers when they sprayed it onto the pads. A riveting battle between Steyn and Tendulkar awaits in the next session, and it could well shape how the day pans out.

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